You won’t want to read this (grumble, moan)!

Yes, I confess I am new to contributing to comments sections of papers, blogs, and so on. And so on… Really it is only since the awful, monstrous, barbaric action of Hamas terrorists on October 7th 2023 that I have felt the need publically to say something in this way. So, dear friends, please forgive me if what I say is nonsense or unhelpful in these distressing times.

But I have been struck in what I read contributed here and elsewhere by ordinary folk, readers like me, that often – far too often, I think – things said are quite frankly rants embodying extremely aggressive and negative stereotypical generalisations about other human beings – be they Muslims, Jews, immigrants, the USA, Liberals, Conservatives, Christians too, or indeed the whole world and the way it is going, going – gone!

What is the point? I find reading such depressed, negative, rants utterly unhelpful. Tell me – do you really find it any different?

Surely, when we speak or write or whatever we want to communicate something to our readers. Surely when I speak or write I am trying to say something, to contribute something, that I intend one way or another to be for the benefit of those who hear or read it. Am I attempting to move myself and others in a life affirming, positive, hopeful, helpful direction, or am I expressing a depressed and hopeless message? Moreover is what I am saying indicating a direction for future action that will make a real difference to the world? If so, would the world be a better place as a result, will there be more compassion, even more happiness, in the world if my words were carried out? Or would the world become a worse place, with an increase in its already obvious negativity and horror? Or perhaps my words when all is said (and not done!) convey no implications at all for action on the part of those who read or hear them. Perhaps they are simply my letting off steam, my ranting, my releasing my own negativity?

Dear friends, if my words increase the amount of suffering in the world, or at least make no contribution to its diminution apart from maybe making me feel a bit better, then why, oh why, do I say them? If my words offer no benefit for others, but simply release my own stress, my own negativity, then surely there are more effective ways of doing that than writing in blogs or comments columns, places where I am simply inviting other people to read my own negativity, to admire my own dirty washing. Take up jogging. Or charity work. Pray. Meditate!

So please, dear friends (and I include myself too in this plea) what I am saying is think about why are you writing. What do you want to contribute to your readers if they read what you have written? What a wonderful opportunity writing is and how wonderfully widely it may reach. Think of the influence, think about the good, the difference what you say can make to the world. There is a great responsibility here for each of us if we try to communicate in this way. Own the responsibility. You too can make a difference. Indeed you will. But what difference?

Yes, I know you will say I am being patronising. I am a hypocrite or whatever. To be honest, I too have thought about this. It is of course true. How can I deny it? But quite frankly, I do not care! It is a fallacy (ad hominem!) to argue that what a person says is false because of something regarding the person and not about what they are saying. If a statement is true, then it is true, regardless of whether or not I am a patronising git, a hypocrite, disreputable, a cheat, or whatever.

So dear friends, on top of all of those negative traits (maybe as a Catholic) I am also going to pontificate. I say to all of you, and I include myself in this too, that I hope what I am suggesting here for future consideration by those who would communicate will contribute a little bit to the sum total of human welfare.

No, indeed to welfare more generally – animals, our common environment, as yet undiscovered green googly-eyed monsters on Mars, the flying spaghetti monster, all sentient beings, as the Buddhists say. Think positively, think happily. Give other folk the benefit of the doubt. They are not all out to get you. Why not use your smiley emojis?

About the Author
Paul Williams is Emeritus Professor of Indian and Tibetan Philosophy and the former Head of Religion and Theology at the University of Bristol, UK. He is the author of many books and articles mainly on Buddhist philosophy, particularly in Tibet and a professed lay member of the Dominican Order (Order of Preachers) of the Roman Catholic Church. Since retirement he has been particularly involved in support for Syrian and Ukrainian refugees in the UK, and since October 7th 2023 in outreach and support where appreciated for Jewish friends and contacts.
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